The International Rescue Committee (IRC) hosted the 2024 Emergency Watchlist briefing yesterday focusing on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), an online event that spotlighted the MENA countries featured in the 2024 Emergency Watchlist. The briefing discussed the humanitarian situations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.

The IRC’s annual Emergency Watchlist highlights the 20 countries most at risk of a worsening humanitarian crisis in the coming year. Since its inception, it has successfully predicted on average 85-95% of the 20 countries facing the worst humanitarian deteriorations each year. This year, the report dispels several misconceptions, or "myths," such as the belief that rich countries host a disproportionate share of refugees, that effective aid access can be measured by trucks of aid alone, or that gender inequality is not a matter of life and death.

In the 60-minute briefing, Mark Kaye, IRC Regional Policy, Advocacy, and Communications Director for the Middle East and North Africa offered insights into how the findings of this year's Emergency Watchlist intersect with the ongoing challenges in the region. Kaye said, “There are millions of increasingly vulnerable populations in the MENA continuing to suffer the effects of protracted crises - some of which have been going on for more than a decade. These people are particularly at risk when new shocks occur such as natural disasters, or renewed hostilities, as many have already exhausted all their coping mechanisms simply surviving to date. Across the region, protracted crises have led to economic turmoil and weak governance, which invariably means that when a crisis strikes people are not protected from harm and struggle to get the support they need.”

During the briefing, various myths and facts related to humanitarian crises were explored. Sam Duerden, serving as the IRC’s Regional/Crisis Team Lead for the occupied Palestinian territory crisis, emphasized the formidable challenges associated with delivering aid to Gaza. He stressed that only an immediate and sustained ceasefire can ensure delivery of aid at the scale needed where needs are high for more than two million people.

“Nowhere in Gaza is safe, and humanitarian operations face significant challenges under current conditions. It's not just about the number of aid trucks; it's about ensuring the safe delivery of aid while protecting civilians, humanitarian workers, and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals,” Duerden said. “Five million Palestinians across the Middle East depend on humanitarian aid delivered by UNRWA. That aid must continue to flow to those in need. Palestinians in Gaza are already enduring the hardships of ongoing hostilities, living in desperate conditions, and facing severe shortages of essential resources. The situation places them at an immediate risk of famine and loss of life,” he added.

Lebanon remains on the Emergency Watchlist for the fourth consecutive year due to economic instability and an ongoing political stalemate. Zeina Zouein, Deputy Director of Programs for IRC Lebanon, hoped that one day the state would attain full independence from aid, enabling it to effectively fulfill its duties in addressing the needs of its people. While working toward that goal, the IRC remains committed to strengthening local institutions and collaborating with like-minded organizations to minimize the impact on those in need. 

“The IRC remains focused on effectively addressing evolving humanitarian needs. We achieve this through continuous context and situational analysis, protection monitoring, client feedback, and program impact evaluations, all made possible by flexible funding and adaptable program designs that allow us to maintain high-quality interventions," Zouein commented.

The panel also explored how climate change is exacerbating humanitarian crises. Tajaldein AlKaisi, IRC Field Director for northwest Syria, emphasized the necessity of climate-change resilience approaches, such as the IRC’s Airbel Impact Lab seed pilot program, which was co-designed with over 60 farmers and stakeholders in the seed market within northeast Syria to counter the devastating impact of drought.

"Years of conflict, drought, and soaring inflation have left northeast Syria's farmers struggling to secure quality seeds at affordable prices. As a result, families are facing food shortages and rising costs, with nearly 70% of the population in the northeast experiencing food insecurity in 2023,” AlKaisi stated. “By extending IRC’s comprehensive solution to farmers, we plan to reach more than 18,000 farms and provide almost 95,000 people with improved access to quality seeds within five years. These solutions can offer hope against the devastating impacts to local economies and food systems,” he added.

Nagwin Burhan, Women Protection and Empowerment Coordinator at IRC Yemen, shed light on the profound impact of gender inequality on humanitarian needs. She pointed out how harmful social norms can severely hinder the economic and social participation of women and girls in Yemen. “Women’s protection and empowerment services are often not considered life-saving and are the first to be cut as global funding declines. An estimated 7.1 million women and girls require protection services. However, they remain overstretched and completely absent in most areas. Community misconceptions, and increasing restrictions on female travel, are further impacting women and girls’ ability to access lifesaving services,” Burhan said.


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